By most measures, the 2014 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships was a success: an exciting three days of college wrestling in front of more than 93,000 fans that garnered increased viewership numbers for ESPN Networks.
Those positives aside, WIN (Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine) editor Mike Finn pointed out a disappointing aspect of the 2014 NCAAs: lack of media representatives from the local newspapers and broadcast outlets of the wrestlers and schools competing in Oklahoma City last month.
In his Editor’s Notes column in the April 8, 2014 issue of WIN, Finn revealed that, in Ohio State junior Logan Stieber’s press conference after winning his third NCAA title, there was no media representative from his native Ohio in the interview room. Finn added that, of the 170 credentialed media at the 2014 NCAAs, only one was from the Buckeye State… and that was a photographer from a suburban Cleveland publication.
Lest you think Finn was singling out Ohio newspapers and TV stations, the WIN editor also noted that there were few wrestling reporters from Oklahoma, not only a wrestling hotbed, but the host state for the event.
As Finn made clear, many media organizations – especially newspapers – are suffering from declining audiences and decreased advertising revenues. These factors have a direct impact on whether there’s money in the budget to send reporters and photographers to cover major sporting events such as the NCAA wrestling championships, whether it’s “just down the road” for an Oklahoman… or hundreds of miles away for an Ohioan.
There may be yet another factor that reduces the number of working media at the wrestling nationals: March Madness, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships, which commenced the same weekend as the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.
Think about the local media in your area. Your hometown newspaper and TV stations probably did not send anyone to Chesapeake Energy Arena for the wrestling championships… but found the bucks to fly reporters, photographers and videographers to Spokane or some other distant locale to provide coverage of the opening rounds of the basketball tournament. Even if your hometown basketball program wasn’t one of the 68 teams involved.
Even the most loyal college wrestling fan may concede that men’s basketball is the Chris Taylor/Tab Thacker (400+ pound NCAA heavyweight champs) of college sports… and that wrestling is, well, the 98-pounder in this battle for media attention.
It’s been an issue for decades. In fact, I wrote about the topic way back in 2006 for InterMat (ironically, the last time the NCAAs were in Oklahoma City). Eight years ago, I urged a schedule shift to get the college wrestling championships out from under the shadow of basketball’s March Madness.
It’s certainly not my idea alone. As long-time University of Minnesota head wrestling coach J Robinson said in a 2003 interview with The Oklahoman newspaper during the NCAAs that year, said, “We have been talking about this for 15 years.”
J Rob recommended starting the college wrestling season one month later, so that the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships would take place in April, after the conclusion of March Madness. Among the benefits of such a schedule shift: local and national media could no longer claim “Sorry, wrestling fans, we were tied up covering basketball.”
Would changing the schedule suddenly mean more media coverage from, say, the Cleveland Plain Dealer or the Columbus Dispatch or the Akron Beacon Journal or WBNS-TV or WLWT-TV (to name some of the bigger players in Ohio media)? No one can say for sure.
Perhaps the lack of media coverage is one of those seemingly intractable issues confronting college wrestling, much like stalling or bad officiating or other topics that were argued about back in 1934, 1964, 1984 and 2004… and are no closer to any sort of a satisfying resolution. But isn’t it worth a shot, as Minnesota’s Robinson suggested more than a decade ago, to try having the NCAA mat championships in April for a couple years, just to see what happens.
What does college wrestling have to lose?